Press Release

Fuel Cell Airplane’s Shakedown Flight Identifies Items Requiring Work Before Extended Duration Mission in July

By SpaceRef Editor
June 9, 2003
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Researchers from NASA and Aerovironment, Inc., brought the remotely
piloted Helios electrically powered flying wing back to land 15 hours
after takeoff — about three hours earlier than planned — after
recording some anomalies with the aircraft’s revolutionary fuel cell
system. This was to have been Helios’ first flight using fuel cell
technology after taking off under solar cell power, but the fuel cell
was not brought on line, said NASA Helios project manager John Del
Frate from the Dryden Flight Reserarch Center, Edwards, Calif. The
flight took off at 8:43 a.m. June 7 from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific
Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

Del Frate said the Helios team was prepared for surprises with this
first flight with the fuel cell on board Helios. "It’s a shakedown
flight," he said. "That’s what we’re here for." Del Frate likened
this first flight to using a huge altitude chamber to check the fuel
cell under extremes of low temperatures and low atmospheric pressure
up to about 50,000 feet. "This is exactly the kind of thing we were
expecting to find out," he said. He said the Helios team will
inspect the aircraft and digest data from the flight before making
another takeoff, which might come before month’s end. He said until
the team has a chance to go over all the data and look closely at
Helios, he could not characterize what precluded operation of the
fuel cell.

Ultimately, remotely piloted aircraft using a combination of fuel
cells and solar cells may be able to stay aloft for weeks at a time,
serving as environmental monitoring vehicles or telecommunications

More information about Helios’ planned flights for 2003 is available
online in news releases from the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center’s
Web site. Photos of Helios’ June 7 takeoff are posted on the NASA
Dryden Web site Gallery section. (

The NASA Dryden Public Affairs Office opens at 7:30 a.m. Pacific
Daylight Time Monday; media query messages may be left today for Alan
Brown at (661) 276-2665, or Fred Johnsen at (661) 276-2998.

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

Public Affairs Office

Edwards, CA 93523

(661) 276-3449

FAX (661) 276-3566

SpaceRef staff editor.